Government’s current green policy approach risks alienating British public, IPPR warns

In a major policy paper published today, the progressive think-tank reiterates the concerns of other key green groups and trade bodies about the UK’s ability to deliver against its long-term climate targets without joined-up policies across sectors.

But rather than focus on specific pieces of historic or forthcoming legislation, the paper looks at the UK’s political system and culture as a whole. It concludes that decades of siloed thinking and short-termism must be ended – and that the system cannot continue to be overly centralised in London if the Government wants to deliver on its promised ‘just transition’ to net-zero.

On the former, environmental issues are stated to have historically been framed as a “niche” issue and the ways in which they intersect stated to have been poorly considered.

On the latter, the IPPR has bases in the North and Scotland as well as the South East and sees the need for ‘levelling up’ across regions as a key driver of its work. The new paper cites research proving that the UK is “one of the most centralised and regionally unequal states among comparable countries”. “Radical decentralisation”, involving greater devolution for UK nations and more funding for local authorities, is cited as key to solving this issue. Without the ability to implement context-specific solutions to the climate and nature crises with local communities in mind, the paper warns, the UK will miss its environmental targets and will see growing social unrest.

Social unrest, the paper continues, is already brewing, as many public services are over-subscribed and there are problems with unequal access. IPPR sees these issues worsening as megatrends like urbanisation and temperature increase continue. Climate breakdown, it states, would completely overwhelm public and local authority services.

Moreover, public trust in the government is falling – particularly over the handling of Covid-19 – and differences of political opinion between social demographics are growing sharper. If policymakers don’t act rapidly to get the general public on their side and to instil a shared sense of community and abundance, the IPPR warns, new extremist and populist groups will emerge and experience great success in the coming decades.

“Failure to reform our political system risks the threat of environmental breakdown being left unaddressed – and as the world becomes more destabilised, space for progressive politics could shrink, benefiting extremist groups and populist leaders at the expense of democracy and justice,” IPPR co-director Luke Murphy said.

Recommended solutions

As well as devolving power and highlighting the co-benefits of decarbonisation, the paper makes a string of other recommendations for designing the “new politics” it refers to.

Echoing the central demand of climate strike movements across Europe, it urges Ministers to “tell the truth” – owning up the UK’s historic contribution to environmental issues, regularly reporting on progress towards key targets and regularly discussing the impacts which adaptation and mitigation are likely to have on communities. It also calls on the government to do more to support young leaders and to ensure that future generations are equipped with the skills needed to make the low-carbon transition a success.

Whitehall is also urged to create a long-time citizen’s assembly on climate change to ensure that an “all-society approach” is taken, the paper continues. An assembly was finalised in January but is currently due to disband in the first half of 2021. Instead of climate change, the IPPR would like to see the assembly focus on environmental breakdown, in recognition of the interconnected nature of the climate and nature crises.

These recommendations build on the IPPR’s ongoing demands for a council on the response to environmental breakdown; an office for future generations; a minister for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); a net-zero and just transition delivery body and department-specific net-zero and just transition delivery plans. To the IPPR’s latter point, plans for transport, infrastructure, heat, buildings and energy are due to be published later this year, following strings of delays.

The publication of IPPR’s paper comes in the same week that the Aldersgate Group launched new recommendations for policies that would support the 2050 net-zero target, in light of Covid-19. Boris Johnson will reportedly announce a ten-point green recovery plan over the coming weeks, having started with new measures to boost offshore wind generation earlier this week.

Sarah George

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